ECU breaks ground for Ahoskie dental center

By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

AHOSKIE, N.C.   (Aug. 23, 2011)   —   On a day when an earthquake rattled North Carolina, officials from East Carolina University and Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center moved some earth themselves when they broke ground Tuesday for a new health care complex that will include an ECU dental center.

Dr. Phyllis Horns speaks during the ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday, Aug. 23, for a complex that will include an ECU dental community service learning center. Photos by Doug Boyd

The center will be built near the corporate offices of RCCHC at 113 Hertford County High Road in Ahoskie. It is one of five dental center sites that have been announced and the first one to break ground.

Site work has already begun on this dual-purpose facility, and it should be completed by March. ECU will build the $3 million, 8,000-square-foot center where dental faculty members, residents and students will provide care for area residents and students and residents will learn what practicing in a community setting is like. The center will have 16 dental chairs and employ local staff members.

“What we’re looking at here in Ahoskie is for this clinic to become not only a model for health care in rural areas of this country, but a model for the future of dental education as well,” said Dr. Greg Chadwick, associate dean for planning and extramural affairs at the ECU School of Dental Medicine. “This marks the first time we’ve co-located a dental school facility and a federally qualified health care center together. We are very excited about our partnership with Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center and look forward to providing quality dental care to residents of Hertford, Bertie, Northampton, Gates and surrounding counties.”

Ahoskie, a town of 5,000 near the Chowan and Meherrin rivers in northeastern North Carolina, was one of the first sites named for what will eventually be 10 such centers across the state. The other sites identified so far are Elizabeth City, Lillington in central North Carolina, and Sylva and Spruce Pine in the western part of the state.

“We’re energized by the opportunity we find here,” said Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for health sciences at ECU.

Ahoskie and surrounding counties have seven dentists. Dr. Benjie Brown has worked in the area since joining his father’s dental practice in 1977. He said the ECU center and the dental school will be good for people who cannot travel long distances for dental care.

“We have a lot in this area who need to get to facilities and can’t because of transportation or whatever,” Brown said. “I hope [the center and school] will bring more dentists to eastern North Carolina.”

North Carolina averages about four dentists for every 10,000 people, below the national average of 5.8 per 10,000, according to the federal Institute of Medicine. The ratio has declined recently as the population has increased faster than the supply of practitioners.

“What we’re doing is basically stretching the wires and moving the fourth floor of our school in Greenville out to the rural, underserved areas of the state,” Chadwick said. The center should be complete in time for a dental residency program to start next summer.

The ECU School of Dental Medicine admitted its first 52 students, all North Carolina residents, this month, with plans to admit approximately 50 each year.

The new two-story Community Health Center facility will become the home of RCCHC-Ahoskie, medical and corporate offices. There will be space for 48 exam rooms, larger improved laboratories, an in-house pharmacy, plus office space for the corporate offices of RCCHC.

RCCHC’s new medical center and ECU’s dental facilities will be built on land deeded to RCCHC and the university by Roanoke-Chowan Alliance. That property is 27.6 acres and includes the current RCCHC building, Northside Behavioral Health and the ViQuest wellness center.

The architect of the two buildings is the East Group of Greenville. General contractor is A.R. Chesson of Williamston, and site work is being done by S.T. Wooten of Wilson.